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Even at WWDC, developers can't get straight answers about App Store rejections

This is just becoming stupid. For the past year, we've heard from developers who have had their apps rejected from the App Store for the silliest of reasons. You know, the app might allow someone to access content that could also be accessed through Mobile Safari, it might display an Old-English translation of the Kama Sutra, or include potentially adult language; but this rejection wins the "most asinine rejection ever" award: Because we said so.

Meet Craig Robinson. Craig is an artist and illustrator. For the last ten years, he's been creating these extremely cool Minipops, tiny pixelated renditions of celebrities and musicians. Check out Radiohead and The Office (UK). These creations have built up a nice fanbase, and Craig even published a book, aptly titled Minipops, in several countries. When Yahoo! Music launched a few years ago, Minipops were featured.

So Craig and his friend Matt decided to create a Minipops iPhone app -- essentially a portable version of the Minipops collection, along with some clever commentary for each illustration and the chance to "guess" what each image represents. The app was rejected from the store under the guise of being potentially offensive. This was shocking, but the guys persevered and resubmitted the app. Once again, rejected. Originally, Craig thought it might have been his sometimes sarcastic commentary that was the offensive part, but the second e-mail made it clear that they found the pixelated illustrations themselves offensive.

Keep in mind, these illustrations are very, very cute -- and if anything, flatter the people they represent more than anything else. Plus, these illustrations have been published not only in Craig's own Minipops book, but used in various other media as well. A book about Michelle Obama will even feature the Minipops of the Obama family.

Regardless, Craig and Matt weren't getting any clear answers from Apple's App Store e-mail help desk. Fast-forward to this week: Matt and Craig go to WWDC.

One of the benefits of WWDC is that you are supposed to actually be able to interact with real Apple employees. After being told to talk to someone in the Developers Lab, Matt and Craig were again faced with some standard answers that sounded like they came out of a tech-support manual, and were given no more information as to what in their app was so potentially offensive to the App Store reviewers. After speaking with someone higher-up, the final answer essentially given was, "because we said so. And according to our TOS, that's the only answer we have to give." Oh, and the always helpful, "e-mail the App Store help line for more information."

This needs to stop. I understand that at WWDC, Apple might not have a whole team of App Store support individuals around to answer specific questions, but surely, if you've paid thousands of dollars to not only join the ADC, but also buy a WWDC ticket, that earns a referral to an actual human being and not just a stock-answer to "e-mail" the App Store support center.

Apple has made it clear they want to make the rules for playing in their sandbox. That's fine. But if a company is going to make the rules, they better let the potential players know what those rules are. A blanket "because we said so" isn't an acceptable answer, especially from a company that claims it is fostering innovation and new market opportunities for its platform. Want developers to use your platform? You better tell them what they can or cannot do, up front, and in a consistent manner.

When developers can't get a straight answer from Apple, even at WWDC, about why an app has been rejected or even what steps they can take to resolve the situation, something is very, very wrong. Make no mistake, a big portion of the iPhone's success is due to the App Store, and 99% of those apps are not developed by Apple. Shafting developers and refusing to even give a straight answer for rejection is a real good way to discourage individuals from developing for or investing in the platform.

We'll be running a weekly column highlighting some of the more ridiculous App Store rejection stories. Please contact us via the tips form or on Twitter if you want to share your story.

If highlighting these preposterous situations is the only way to initiate change, then highlight we shall.

The bottom line is this: Apple is a better company than this and developer's deserve better. If you want to reject an app because you don't like pixelated illustrations, then come out and say it. Or at least try to pinpoint what is objectionable so a developer can reassess and make changes if necessary.

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